Donald Penn openly lobbied for Tony Sparano to remain Raiders head coach after last season. It wasn’t lip service. The veteran left tackle formed a strong bond with his position coach, who became interim head coach after Dennis Allen’s firing early in 2014.
Penn’s employers went in a different direction. They hired head coach Jack Del Rio, who in turn named Mike Tice head coach.
It was a business decision, something Penn understands after being released last offseason by Tampa Bay and replaced by a lesser talent. Transitions can be hard. Penn makes them easy.
He fit right in last season after signing a two-year contract with the Raiders. He quickly assumed a leadership role and had followed up a disappointing 2013 campaign with one of his best.
Despite an ongoing friendship with Sparano, Penn was receptive to this new staff.
“When I heard they hired Jack and he was a hometown guy, he grew up a Raider fan, I was excited about that,” said Penn, who grew up an L.A. Raiders fan. “When we hired (assistant offensive line coach Tim) Holt, I played three years with him in Tampa, so I knew him so I was excited to get back to work with him. I know a lot of people throughout the league, and I’ve heard nothing but great things about coach Tice, so I was really looking forward to working with them. When I found out all of that, it was excitement. I couldn’t [wait] to get started.
“Now we’re here working and everything I thought is coming true. Coach Tice is a great coach. Del Rio, he has a great mentality. He is a great coach. Everything I was thinking is becoming a reality. I am just working hard, just trying to get better.”
Penn will work on a line with some serious talent. Center Rodney Hudson joins an established left side of Penn and guard Gabe Jackson. The right side is in some flux, with Austin Howard a front-runner at right tackle and Khalif Barnes and John Feliciano competing at right guard.
Barnes is the elder statesman and leader of this position group, but Penn also freely dispenses sage advice.
“I follow (Khalif’s) lead, but me being a veteran and playing a lot, I do speak up when I need to,” Penn said. “Me and him are close, so we feed off of each other. If we see something, he might see it before me, I might see it before him, but we’re doing a good job of policing the room and keeping everybody straight. The good thing is the young guys that are coming in, they’re just catching on, following our lead, and it’s making it easy on us.”